You may have heard the term skoolie and have been curious as to what is a skoolie? A skoolie is a school bus that has been converted into a camper or RV. The school bus conversion may be used for many things, but it is usually used for camping.
In the past, the only way to convert a school bus was to build it yourself. However, the skoolie has become more popular as the price of school buses has dropped. Today there are a few companies selling and performing bus conversions.
With the right equipment and knowledge, you can turn any old school bus into a skoolie.
Why Perform A Skoolie Conversion?
A skoolie bus is a great alternative to a camper for people who want the comforts of home, but don’t want to pay the price of a camper. The size of a skoolie can range from a small bus that can sleep two people to a larger bus that can accommodate 6-10 people.
If you’re interested in learning more about skoolies, keep reading!
Inexpensive to Purchase
School buses are fairly inexpensive to purchase and are generally maintained well. When considered to an RV price, they are a steal. If you're skilled or can at least follow YouTube, you'll save even more.
School bus design is sturdy
There are many different types of school buses. The most common type is the school bus with a single cab. Other types of buses include school buses with dual cabs, school buses with a rear exit, and school buses with a wheelchair lift.
No matter which bus you purchase, it'll be sturdy. The chassis on a bus is extremely strong and will hold up well over time.
Design your skoolie bus yourself-
Many people enjoy designing their own home or apartment. Why not design an RV bus as well? You will need to do some research, but it is not that hard and you can get lots of ideas from the internet. There are many resources for you to use when designing your RV bus.
You will be able to find many RV bus designs. You can also get some great ideas from other people who have designed their own bus.
You can design your bus to fit your budget and lifestyle. Grab a paper and pencil or use skoolie bus conversion floor plan software to design the layout of your used school bus conversion.
Easy-to-Find Repair Places
School buses are a dime a dozen and utilize the major brand's chassis and running gear so parts and service are available.
If you do not have a spare school bus for parts, check your local junkyard, auto salvage yard or go to an auto body shop that does school buses. They usually have a good selection of parts and can tell you where they can get them.
Parts for school buses are readily available if you know where to look. The major brands like Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Peterbilt, Freightliner, and International provide a full range of parts. Some bus manufacturers also sell their own brand of parts.
Knowledge Of Your Skoolie Bus Conversion-
Life is all about learning and relationships. It's no difference with the skoolie lifestyle either. You'll learn a ton of things about your bus during the DIY conversion process that will save you money in maintenance cost in the future.
As you learn, you'll meet lots of people that are living the skoolie lifestyle. Some will have performed a bus conversion while others may be in the same bus as you and just getting started with bus conversions.
The skoolie community is cool and most are always willing to help and give ideas. Get on forums and find others that are living the bus lifestyle to gain knowledge and friends of the road.
What Does A Skoolie Conversion Process Look Like?
A skoolie bus conversion looks like a daunting task, but in reality it's like eating an elephant. You've got to eat it one bite at a time. Breaking it down into steps or processes will make it easier.
You'll start by stripping out the seats to make way for framing. Next will be framing out the interior space and then plumbing and electrical. This is the point where water storage and waste storage need to be completed. You'll want to run wiring up to your solar panels if you plan on going greener.
Next up would be spray foam and finishing out the bus interior. This step will include wall coverings, storage and flooring. Lastly, you'll want to enjoy your bus conversion.
How much square feet is needed?
When deciding to perform a school bus conversion, you need to determine how much space you need. Are you a lone wolf, traveling with your partner or a whole family?
Determining how much square footage you need will help you determine the size of the bus you need. If you're planning to be travelling plus one, a small short bus will work just fine depending on the layout.
When considering the interior space, a bus is just shy of 8 feet across. A small bus will be around 100 square feet. A bus around 45 feet long will offer around 250 square feet of living space.
When building a skoolie conversion, think of how many people you can comfortably sleep. Some skoolie bedroom ideas include a master and bunk beds for the rest of the occupants. With smart planning, you could sleep way more than one would imagine.
Just think long term equals less people. Quick adventures and you can compromise the space required equaling more people. Adding a roof deck with popup can give an additional sleeping and lounging area.
If your plan calls for a toy hauler portion, your space will get eaten up pretty fast. This design will limit it down to mid-size to small bus capacity.
Buying a used school bus-
If you're looking to buy a skoolie bus, there are plenty of things to look at. You don't want to buy your home on wheels only to find out later that you bought wrong. Here is a few items to look at or consider when buying an old school bus:
- Check to see if they have maintenance records if it was fleet.
- Check the under carriage for signs of damage.
- Look at the under carriage for salt damage. Popular in the north eastern part of states.
- Obviously, get the lowest mileage that you can afford. 250,000 is the average lifespan.
- Check the mechanical aspects with a fine tooth comb.
- Test drive it to check out all the components.
Buying a bus is a good amount of money. The cost will quickly grow if you start with a poor foundation. If you're not mechanically inclined, take someone with you that is.
There is nothing that says you can't have it looked at by a mechanic before you buy it. It may cost you some of your money for the inspection, but could save you a lot more later.
Developing a floor plan-
Developing the floor plan can be exciting and frustrating at times. Some things will not fit no matter how many times you measure.
Getting an accurate idea of how much square footage you'll have minus any framing will give you an idea on what will fit and what won't. It's nice to use software for this or make an outline drawing of your bus dimensions and print out multiple copies to try different floor plan ideas.
Once you've narrowed down your ideal floor plan, lay it out in your stripped bus with masking tape or chalk lines to the floor to see what it actually looks like. If you plan to close off some windows, hang cardboard over the windows to see how that will look.
No matter what layout you decide, keep in mind that an open floor plan will make it feel bigger than it is and storage areas need to be thought of and planned for. Trust me, you'll run out of room sooner than later.
Preparing for the skoolie conversion-
Now that you've bought a used bus, it's time to prep it for your conversion. It's probably the easiest part of conversions.
- Start removing all the seats except the driver's unless upgrading it.
- Remove the A/C if not using it or it's broke.
- If you have one with a wheel chair lift and want it gone, now is the time to remove it.
- See if you can sell the seats, lift or A/C to recoup some of the conversion cost.
Building out the walls and ceiling-
When you build a skoolie you will be framing walls and ceilings. These will need to be small framing members because of limited space. You can't start framing with 2x4s or worse 2x6s. You'll run out of room fast.
The framing is important to not only identify and separating living space from bathroom and bedroom, but for utilities and insulation. Spray foam is often used in skoolies due to it's great R-value and conformity to various shapes.
The framing will give you something to support the finish material and any storage cabinets that you may require for your design.
Skoolie conversion utilities-
When performing your conversion, you'll need to run electrical wires to get lights and power where you need them. Your electrical plan may require solar panels and generator tie-ins for off grid living.
If you plan to stay at an RV park then you'll need a system that can tie-in to line power that the park has. If you're not familiar with electricity, hire someone or get a knowledgeable friend to help you.
The last thing you want is a fire in your tiny home on wheels.
If you plan to have running water in your skoolie, you'll need to run piping/tubing before closing up your walls. Running water for washing is a must for me.
If you plan on having a septic tank that can dump into dump stations at RV parks, you'll want to make sure it's plumbed properly, less crap hits the fan. If you're in a small bus, you may want to opt for a composting toilet to keep the waste tank smaller.
Plumbing plans need to consider the time of year that you'll be using the skoolie. It maybe necessary to keep the tubing well insulated from the outer wall to prevent freezing. This is true with water storage and waste storage tanks as well.
How Much Does a School Bus Conversion Cost?
A skoolie conversion costs more than just the price of a used school bus and some parts, it’s going to require a lot of work.
Depending on how you want your conversion done, the price can range from $10,000-$30,000+.
For more of a break down of a skoolie bus conversion, you may want to check out another post of ours, How Much Does It Really Cost To Convert A School Bus?
Are There Any Skoolie Conversions for Sale?
Yes, there are many skoolie conversions for sale. One of the largest and best known companies is called the “Lonestar Skoolie” which offers a variety of options including custom builds, conversions, and modifications.
conversion company, good idea, school bus conversion, skoolie
Used School Bus Conversions For Sale-
Is a Skoolie cheaper than an RV?
It can be a lot cheaper to perform a skoolie conversion in multiple ways than to purchase an RV. In other ways, an RV can be cheaper if you start with a poorly maintained and high mileage school bus.
The average price for a small used RV is around $30k to $50k depending on the condition.
The cheapest new Class C RV I could find on RV trader I could find was $73k.
You'll find that a custom skoolie conversion is going to cost around $30k if you do all the work yourself and use quality materials. On the flip side, you can pull the seats out of your bus, slap a mattress on the floor and a bucket for a bathroom if you want to cheap it.
The beauty of a skoolie is that you can start with the bus and use it from day one. Build it as time goes along and finances allow. The other option is to buy an RV instead of a used bus and making monthly payments. With interest rates today, you'd be better off with the bus.
Ways a skoolie is better than an RV-
- It's cheaper to purchase the bus even with the added conversion cost
- You get to customize the bus to include the floor plan and storage.
- You can add upgrades like solar panels and other parts cheaper than add-ons with RV.
- You'll save money on repairs because you'll know every square inch of your skoolie after performing the bus conversion.
- Your skoolie will give you mad amounts of cool factor and pride in building a skoolie.
Ways RVs are better than bus conversion-
- RVs are generally ready to take life on the road right after purchase.
- RVs can come with a warranty depending on the type of purchase.
- RVs can be financed where as it can be difficult to get a loan for a skoolie.
What Are Some Things You Should Know Before Buying a Skoolie?
Skoolie Gas Mileage & Fuel-
Let's face it, skoolies are large vehicles and therefore burn a lot of fuel compared to a regular passenger vehicle. A full size skoolie will get around 8-10 miles per gallon where as a tiny skoolie will get around 12 miles per gallon or so.
It may seem bad compared to your everyday vehicle, but it's relatively close to an RV or pulling a large camper with your truck. Keep in mind, my Jeep TJ lifted with large tires gets poor mileage. It's some where around 12 to 14 mpg.
Depending on whether you purchase a diesel or gas engine skoolie, the mileage doesn't hurt. It's filling up the fuel tank that kills you. With the national average of diesel and gas at $5.31 an $4.23 respectively, filling up a 30 - 100 gallon capacity tank ain't cheap.
Like the lifted Jeep, you don't build a skoolie because it gets a lot of miles per gallon. No, you buy it for the lifestyle and adventure. Never the less, you should think of the cost to hit the road before investing in used buses.
Believe it or not, some RV parks don't allow skoolies to stay at there parks. Some will view a skoolie as unsafe or not up to code because it wasn't professionally built. It seems to be a problem in very few RV parks.
Generally it's not that it's a bus but rather the age of the vehicle. There are a lot of RV parks that don't allow older buses, RV's of campers in them at all. Whether it's them being afraid of an electrical fire, aesthetics, or simply just worried about sewage spill when offloading it's dumb.
A good bus conversion, if done right is just as safe and aesthetically appealing as a new RV. Anybody that says different is probably jealous that they didn't have the drive and skills to convert a used bus.
At any rate, it's a good idea to check with the park before you head out on the open road. Nothing is worse than traveling all day to be turned away when all you want to do is rest.
Living In A Skoolie Conversion-
There are some of us that live in a bus conversion full time. I think this trend will continue to grow. With inflation high, the housing market set to tumble and the tiny home trend, it's inevitable.
Remote work skoolie-
I have a couple of friends that work remote and live in a schoolie while working in the oil patch down south. There aren't facilities to sleep in yet so the skoolie living space works fine for them. They work week on and week off.
If your conversion is paid off and don't have land, you'll have to stay at an RV park. This cost should be thought about before you sell your home and head out. The average price per month is $250-1000.
Choose your partner wisely-
It takes a special person to want to live the van or bus lifestyle. In a home, you can separate for a bit by going to the shop or living room. In a skoolie, it's inside or out. Make sure your significant other and you are 100% on board with living in the tighter spaces.
You have to have a minimalistic approach to living in a skoolie. Take an inventory of everything you two have that you can't live without. Now imagine storing it on a bus.
If you both decide to pull the trigger, it maybe the perfect time to downsize your belongings. If you're unsure, at a minimum, store your items in a storage unit before you give it away.
Skoolie maintenance costs shouldn't be anymore than a regular RV or diesel pickup truck. Diesel driven trucks and buses are inherently more expensive than their gas counter parts when things break.
Performing regular maintenance on your bus conversion will save you trouble on the road and in your wallet. One other thing to remember is to at minimum, drive it around regularly to keep seals and bearings lubed.
If your skoolie was born from an old school bus, ensure that you go through the belts, seals and hoses to check if they need replaced.
If you can perform your on maintenance or have a friend that can, the conversion cost will be a wash when considering the money saved over time.
Always perform a pre-trip inspection prior to hitting the open road to identify anything that could leave you on deserted highway. Missed items can get expensive if not found early.
As with all bus conversions are different, so are the engines. There are gas engines and diesel engines in all kinds of busses. I'm only familiar with the Ford engines 6.0l and the 7.3l so I will not even begin to tell you about the others.
As for gas or diesel, the choice is yours. For me, the diesel is better and although older, I think the 7.3l Ford diesel is one of the best motors Ford ever produced. Then again, it might be due to it replacing the lack luster, yet EMP proof 6.9l.
Our current skoolie has the diesel Ford 6.0l engine.
When tend to stick with the smaller Econoline style skoolies for their ability to get upgraded to four wheel drive and off-road capability once converted. The shorter wheel base allows for better clearance over obstacles.
Either style of engine you decide, just remember, diesels are more expensive to repair than gas engines. Keep that in mind when calculating operating and maintenance costs.
For me, having the power and torque of a diesel is more important than worrying about what might happen in the way of break downs.
Diesel costs more than gasoline to purchase, but you generally will get better mileage with the diesel.
There are many people that have performed bus conversions, that love the tiny home or van lifestyle. They are overall a good group of people that love to share ideas and stories of their adventures.
Get on groups to learn more or to get inspiration. You'll find that most have been there and done that. If they haven't run into your problem, you may be able to solve a problem for the community if you figure it out.
There are several communities and forums to find likeminded people to share adventures with and by all means, talk to the skoolie owners you meet on the road. They will more than likely be all over checking out each others rides to get ideas.
Final Thoughts on "What Is A Skoolie?"-
So, what is a skoolie? Simply put, it's whatever you make it into. Whether it's a camper, a toy hauler or bugout vehicle made from a bus conversion, it's just plain cool. Your creativity is your ceiling.
Building skoolies is one of the ultimate DIY projects. It's building a home on wheels that requires some skills to include mechanical.
With skoolie design, the sky's the limit. You can build it as lavish or spartan as you wish. The choice is yours because it's your canvas. A bus conversion is a great way to travel or live the tiny home lifestyle.
You'll meet lots of other skoolie owners and if not, you'll at least meet skoolie fans everywhere you go. Who doesn't like a cool bus conversion?
To learn more tips and ideas on how to build a skoolie, be sure to check out our other skoolie articles here.